Concentrations of total mercury (Hg), methyl Hg and Hg(II) were determined in coastal marine sediments collected from the Baltic, South China and the Bering Seas. Methyl Hg concentrations in sediments were between 0.01 and 2 ng g−1 on a dry weight basis, accounting for only <1% of the total Hg concentrations. The percentage of Hg(II) (i.e. available Hg) in total Hg was between 5 and 13 suggesting that most of the Hg in sediments was bound as HgS and/or Hg-humic complexes. Relatively larger proportion of methyl Hg was found in less polluted freshwater sediments than in marine sediments. Methyl Hg concentrations in marine sediments were not found to be correlated with total Hg and/or Hg (II) concentrations.